Baby in the car. Heavy bags. Short on time.
These and other reasons inspired Laura Amiton to open The Filling Station, a pet-supply store in Tigan, OR, with a convenient drive-thru. She came up with the idea one day at her other business, Healthy Pets Northwest in Portland.
“I had a woman running through the store, trying to get things quickly,” Amiton recalls. Turns out, the customer had left her baby locked in the car. “I said, ‘Why don’t you go back outside. I’ll ring up your order and bring it to you.’”
Once back in side, Amiton says, “It hit me like a ton of bricks: Why isn’t there a pet store with a drive-thru option?”
She opened exactly that in 2015. Located in a shopping center space once occupied by a bank, a sensor sounds when a vehicle pulls up to the window. Customers can call ahead with an order or place it there. Employees take purchases out through adjacent double doors for quick and easy loading.
“It can be super fast, take just a couple of minutes. Or a bit longer if they have a lot of questions.”
Drive-thru attendants keep stickers on hand for kids in tow. They even wash windows as part of The Filling Station experience.
“We try to remind people of the old service stations. I believe in old-fashioned customer service. That’s not something they can get at the big pet stores.”
Find the Perfect Space
Buildings with a drive-thru — already in short supply — don’t last long on the rental market.
“Starbucks does a good job of snatching them up,” Amiton explains. “This space had been sitting vacant for eight years because it lost zoning for the drive-thru.
Officials deemed it too short for a busy business, as cars would back up and block parking spots. She asked the highly motivated landlord if there was any way they could bring the drive-thru back. There was: He would present it as a pick-up window that sees significantly less traffic than a bank or coffee shop. The city approved.
Amiton then built out her pet-supply store, positioning the register area next to the window so it would always be staffed, with fulfillment help on standby.
More Food Customers
The Filling Station specializes in natural pet foods, which make up 80 percent of its sales. The drive-thru ups the convenience factor while still providing expert advice and stellar customer service. This winning combination helps the store attract highly valued food buyers.
“About 95 percent of my drive-thru sales include food,” Amiton says, who expects that number to grow when she adds online ordering. “There may be add-on sales, but the main reason someone uses the drive-thru is to pick up food.”
Those shoppers remain loyal, as well, even when they may be tempted to order from an online pet retailer and have it delivered to their door.
“Today I had a regular customer tell me how much she appreciated the drive-thru last summer, when she injured her back. She usually comes inside, but used the drive-thru when she really needed it. I hear that a lot.”
Do It Yourself: Open A Store With A Drive-Thru
- Opening a new store? Work with a commercial Realtor to help you snag a building with drive-thru.
- Design a checkout area that serves customers both inside and out.
- Staff accordingly on busy days, with team members greeting all cars in line and starting their orders.
- Post drive-thru photos to your store’s social media — show a variety, from parents with kids to busy professionals to regulars with their pups.
- Talk up the convenience to in-store shoppers; drive-thru pet stores aren’t common, so they may need convincing.
This article originally appeared in the March 2018 edition of PETS+.